Voting technology: Arrows vs. ovals for optical scan ballots

I voted bright and early this morning in Alameda County, California. After confirming my name and address, I was given the option of voting electronically or by paper ballot, which I would feed into an optical scanner. Well aware of the problems that have occured with e-voting machines, I chose paper (as did the vast majority of the voters I saw around me).

One of the criticisms of optical-scan systems is that elderly or disabled people can have trouble completely filling in the ovals or circles next to each candidate's name. The incomplete marks are not counted, and these folks' votes are invalidated.

On my ballot, there's no oval to fill in -- instead there's an arrow with a gap in the middle pointing to each candidate's name. You complete the arrow next to your choice by drawing a straight line between the two pieces of the arrow (thus filling in the gap).

I hunted up a sample ballot from the city of Brockton, Mass., which requires voters to fill in ovals, and I've included an image of it on the left below. On the right is an image of my sample ballot, which uses the broken arrow design.

sample ballots -- Massachusetts and California

It certainly does seem easier to complete the arrow, as opposed to completely filling in the oval. On the other hand, filling in the oval seems much more intuitive. The ovals are simply more familiar to anyone who has filled out government forms or taken standardized tests in America.

To be fair, my ballot did include instructions on how to complete the arrows, and my poll worker also asked me if I knew how to use the ballot when she handed it to me. Once I got used to the design, I found filling out the ballot very quick and easy.

Although there's some potential for confusion, I think the arrow design is a winner. What do you think? Are arrows better than ovals or should we stick with the familiar?

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